An Inconvenient Truth: The School Version

November 5, 2007

by Tammy Drennan

How many anecdotes does it take to prove a reality?

That’s what I ask myself as I listen to story after story from parents pulling their children out of public schools… about 400 stories a year for ten years now.

Let me begin with some stories from this past week. On Thursday I talked with a junior from a local high school. The school is medium-sized and serves a rural and small town population in the Bible Belt. During the last week of October, the police visited the school twice and arrested at least ten students, and in a separate incident, on Halloween day, students smeared feces on hallway walls. A couple of weeks before this there had been a school lock-down due to a gun scare, followed by a harangue by the principal because the incident had made its way to the media.

The student told me that there were lock-downs at the school almost every week and that the police were at the school routinely. Students are required to be escorted to the restroom (apparently, some make it without an escort).

Another story from the past week. A mom called for homeschooling information because she was pulling her ninth grade son out of school. The boy has a condition that has made him the brunt of torment at school that had escalated to physical assault on numerous occasions. He was also years behind in at least two subjects. He was reaching the breaking point and mom knew she had to do something.

Sometimes I feel as if I live in a weird twilight zone. I pick up my local newspaper every day and see glowing stories about public schools. Then my phone begins to ring and the e-mails come… children afraid to go to school, taunted, beat up, harassed, uneducated; parents dismissed as cranks.

Then I pick up the paper again. Then I get on-line and find story after story of neglect, abuse and failure in public schools.

Then I pick up the paper again and find a section A story about all the police officers assigned to schools and a section B story about our wonderful local schools, which suffer none of the ills of other schools in the country.

And my phone rings and the e-mails keep coming. That’s not all, either. Other people share the stories they experience and hear from friends with children in public schools – and there are plenty of them. And one more thing – I went to public school. I have plenty – plenty – of stories I could tell.

I’m inclined to think that thousands of anecdotes amount to significant evidence that something is terribly wrong in public schools. The schools that Horace Mann and thousands of other social activists envisioned as the source of a perfect society have turned into poster children of dysfunction and terror for vast numbers of youngsters.

And it’s not improving. Instead, schools are being equipped with metal detectors, police officers, extra counselors, daycare rooms for students’ children, clinics, special programs for dealing with rage, bullying, low self-esteem, violence, gangs, and this just scrapes the surface of the problems that, it could be convincingly argued, have been school-induced or school- exacerbated.

But all of this is truly an inconvenient truth. I wonder how inconvenient it will be to live in the societies run by each successive generation that is not rescued from this inexcusable nightmare.

Next week: A discussion about solutions.